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Black Community Sport and Physical Activity Fund: Learning from a participatory grant-making pilot
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The Sported Participatory Grant Model (PGM) pilot revolutionized funding in the sport for development sector by actively involving the intended beneficiaries and communities in the decision-making process for grant allocations.
This article was submitted as part of our call for articles on participatory approaches in sport for development. For more information and to find out how to submit, read the call for articles.

The Sported Participatory Grant Model (PGM) pilot was an innovative funding model for the sport for development sector where the people and communities we aim to benefit actively participated in the processes and decisions about how grants were awarded. It underpinned the Black Community Sport and Physical Activity Fund, launched in December 2022, through which Black-led organisations in London could apply for up to £10,000 of funding toward any upcoming costs for their community group, and later the Black Identity Football Fund which supported Black-led grassroots groups serving Black communities in Manchester to apply for up to £2,000 to support football activities.

The model responded to insight from Sported’s Tackling racism at the grassroots report and research into the accessibility of grant funding within the community sport sector. Through this research we found that funding and the fundraising landscape within the community sport and broader third sector is designed in such a way that can exclude the communities that they represent or serve.

In light of these findings, Sported’s PGM model was founded on the following principles:

  • Cede decision making power about grants to the communities impacted by funding decisions.​
  • Promote greater community engagement: building confidence, trust, connectedness and leadership.
  • Challenge some of the long-term structural power imbalances that exist within more traditional funding mechanisms.​
  • Build a deeper understanding from those with lived experience.​
  • Respond to broader demands for funders to be more accountable, transparent and collaborative.​
  • Develop and shape a scalable framework of participatory grant making for the future.​
  • Inform other funders and partners within the sector.
  • Make more effective funding decisions and determine more appropriate outcomes for such funds.

he fund was delivered through a collaborative panel of individuals who had specific understanding and lived experience working in and with Black communities. The participants, across three panels, shaped the format of the fund, created application assessment criteria, developed evaluation and learning outcomes, and drove the grant making decisions to award funds to other Black-led and Black-centred community organisations from the final grant pot. 

All community leaders involved in these panels were compensated for their time during training and the subsequent time required to deliver against their respective roles in recognition that their lived experiences are expertise not possessed in-house, and therefore they should be compensated as would be the case with any external ‘consultant’. Participants also went through an induction prior to the delivery of the fund.

Feedback indicated that the project delivered positive outcomes and, crucially, informed our learning about participatory models of grant delivery. From the funders’ perspective, the model was effective in reaching a cold spot community that current fundraising processes exclude, and helped funders be more open to risk and innovative approaches to targeting specific communities. Participants praised the model’s flexibility of approach, decision making and reporting and it was successful in building trust with funders and partners. Representation of the community within the facilitation stages and through capacity building roles also increased levels of trust. 

Ceding power to those impacted by funding decisions also challenged some long-term structural imbalances in the application process. In one example, through the model’s increased weighting on the potential impact on those Black communities, rather than an assessment of application writing skills, two groups who had been unsuccessful with previous applications to various funding programmes were able to receive a grant for the first time. 

The model did model present several challenges. These included:

  • Difficulties in assessing the amount of time and support/facilitation required at each stage without clarity from groups about how much they knew of the PGM approach.
  • Limited time for relationship-building because of restrictions on the duration of the programme.
  • Making sure groups were aware of the required outputs and setting reasonable expectations of actionable outcomes to reduce the administrative burden on facilitators.
  • Recognising that the impact of funding for historically underserved communities takes time and building an evidence base to understand this change is challenging in the early stages of the work.
  • Restrictions on the kinds of activities groups felt able to apply for funding toward given the limit of £10,000 and that this was a single-year programme.

We recognise that a pilot alone cannot tackle all these issues or provide long-lasting impact for communities who have experienced years of inequitable access to resources. Continued engagement and empowerment of the community is key. Without this, the trust built over this PGM pilot will be lost. Sustained engagement in this model through further rounds of funding will increase trust among the wider Black community as more groups apply for the funding. 

With this in mind, Sported is reflecting on the following recommendations:

  • When publicising the fund in the future, explore different avenues to widen your reach, through either partner organisations or the participants themselves.
  • Ensure that there is enough protected time for delivery, learning, and partnership-building. 
  • Continuously reflect about how each stage can be more participatory.
  • Understand the role of intersectionality and how the experiences of individuals who face multiple barriers impact within communities.
  • Ensure such models are always led and championed by people from within those communities seeking to benefit from the work.

The Sported PGM pilot is one potential format to consider for those organisations looking to further invest in sport for development in different communities. While our model focused on a community of race, we believe the model could be successfully deployed across many communities, whether by age, identities, disabilities, social causes or place. Using this model, communities of any type are empowered to speak on their own behalf on how investment in sport for development can best be accessed and used.


About the authors

Onyinye Nkemdirim is the London Regional Manager for Sported, working with the organisation's local partners and supporting almost 400 members in the region. Onyinye led the PGM project from Sported's side and acted as a facilitator for the community participants in process design and decision making.

Andrew Stead is Insight Officer at Sported, co-ordinating the organisation’s research, monitoring, evaluation, and learning programmes.

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